Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) officers started basic sniffer training for 10 dogs to detect Covid-19 after receiving artificial virus material to aid in training from Switzerland.

CMAC director Heng Ratana, said on April 7 that equipment used to sniff for Covid-19 arrived in Cambodia on the April 5, to train the dogs to detect the virus. He declined to elaborate on the materials received.

He said CMAC officers have gradually started training the dogs to be obedient, but not yet stepped into sniffing for the Covid-19 virus as health scientists are discussing the different kind of smells.

Asked if the dogs could get infected, Ratana said they are completely safe, because they are not training with a real virus. The dogs will smell the artificial materials, and carefully smell a few infected people.

“We let the dog sniff 100 people who don’t have Covid-19 then we let them sniff one or two Covid-19 patients to make the dogs familiar with the smell of those who have the disease. When the dogs can find two infected people, they have the ability to find people infected with Covid-19,” he explained.

According to Ratana, the use of dogs to sniff for infected people is applied in some countries such as Germany, Finland, Australia and Russia.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng and ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine could not be reached for comment. Officials from the University of Health Sciences which are involved in the training also could not be contacted.

In February, Prime Minister Hun Sen authorised the ministry and CMAC to conduct a dog research and development programme to help identify people infected with Covid-19.